Article from Travel Outback Australia.
You really can’t say you’ve visited the outback unless you visit Alice Springs.
More so than than Uluru, Alice Springs IS the the heart, soul, and centre of the outback.
And if you’re thinking that the outback’s capital is a dry, dusty little town with few facilities and not much to see and do, then you’d better think again.
Alice Springs is a big, bold friendly town with lots of quirks, culture, things to see and do, and an adventurous free-spirit all its own!
Because the town is our home, we’re in a very special position to show you around.
So on this page (and lots of other pages) we’re going to give you your very own locally guided tour of the town we love.
C’mon. Let’s take a look around.
P.S. Don’t call it ‘THE ALICE’. Alice or Alice Springs is what we locals call it.
Why You Should Visit
DON’T make the mistake of flying in and out of Uluru, missing out on the hospitality and spirit of the outback that you’ll find in Alice Springs.
For a start, the town is central to just about everything else in the outback, which makes it an ideal place to fly into and start your adventure.
It’s also the perfect base to explore Central Australia from if you’re doing a Great Aussie Road Trip.
If you’re interested in Aboriginal culture or art, the outback’s best gorges and scenery, world famous hiking trails, award-winning restaurants and cafes, friendly locals and surprising history, then Alice is also must-see.
And if you’re after great live events and quirky cultural festivals like the Camel Cup (pictured below), Alice Springs is one place you must not miss!
Ideally, you’ll need a minimum of two days in Alice to see just the highlights – so make sure you plan your trip accordingly.
If you fly in or drive up from the south (from Uluru or Coober Pedy), the town is hidden behind the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges, so you can’t see it straight away.
(It’s 15 km from the airport into town and there’s a shuttlebus if you don’t have your own transport. Read more about Alice Springs airport here).
You drive in to the town through a startling gap in the ranges called ‘Ntaripe’ by local Aboriginal people, or ‘Heavitree Gap’ by many locals.
Once you’re in the town, it’s very easy to get around.
The streets in the central part of the town form a grid that’s only four blocks at its widest, which means you can walk just about anywhere in the central business district in less than 10 minutes.
The famous Todd River (mostly dry) is situated at the eastern end of the central business district, and there’s a shared walking/bicycle track which runs along the river as well.
You can take a pleasant afternoon stroll to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and explore the town’s earliest beginnings there.
Alice Springs has also about 15 named suburbs, with many of these suburbs having their own small shopping centres and supermarkets – so you’re never far from supplies.
Despite the fact that the town is spread out over a wide area, you can drive anywhere in the town in less than ten minutes. There’s also a fabulous network of cycle tracks – which is why you’ll find that many of us who live here either cycle or walk to work.
See and Do
One question we’re asked a lot is “What is there to see and do in Alice Springs?”.
The answer to that question is: there’s so much to see, you’ll need about two weeks here if you want to see and do everything!
Here we’re just going to give you an overview of what’s to see and do. You’ll find that our blog is packed with more info on attractions, itineraries and information about Alice Springs, so click through to some of the links below.
One place you MUST see is the Alice Springs Desert Park.
This is award-winning park is part zoo, part living natural history museum and part Aboriginal cultural tour.
A visit to the Alice Springs Desert Park takes you on your very own journey of central Australia’s many different natural habitats.
You’ll get up close and personal with real kangaroos, emus, birds of prey and cute furry animals like Malas and Antechinus that you never knew existed.
The Desert Park is the ultimate value-adder for any outback adventure. Once you’re been there, you’ll never look at Australia’s outback in the same way.
Allow 3 hours to visit the Desert Park. It’s located on Larapinta Drive, about 8 km west of the town centre (costs $25 per adult).
Read why you MUST visit the Desert Park here.
Another place to visit is the Alice Springs Telegraph Station.
This is the site of the first European settlement in the area, and for a very small entrance fee, you can take a guided tour through the fully restored historic buildings and wander the shady riverside grounds that are a favourite for picnics and BBQs with us locals.
You’ll also get to see the actual Alice ‘spring’ that the town is named for.
A few quick and easy things to see are:
- Todd Mall for Aboriginal art shops and great alfresco cafes
- visit Anzac Hill (Untyeyetwelye) for the best view in town
- visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service for a remarkable tour and a bite to eat in their cafe
- visit the Araluen Cultural precinct, where you’ll find paintings by Albert Namatjira, the Museum of Central Australia and the Connellan Aircraft Museum
- visit Flynn’s Grave, the final resting place of Flying Doctor’s pioneer, Reverend John Flynn
- visit Emily and Jessie Gaps (south of the gap, on the Ross Highway) to see sacred Aboriginal ochre paintings
And what is there to do?
One thing that won’t you find in Alice Springs is boredom.
There’s always something happening in town: live music, festivals, exhibitions and crazy events like the Camel Cup or Beanie Festival.
If you’re after adventure, try these:
- try a sunset camel ride
- or a sunrise balloon ride over the outback
- try a high-adrenalin quad bike ride
- or an outback Harley Davidson ride
If you’d like to get up close and friendly with kangaroos, emus, bilbies or go birdwatching:
- the Alice Springs Desert Park
- the Olive Pink Botanic Garden (free entry, great cafe!)
- the Alice Springs Kangaroo Sanctuary
And if you’re just looking for some great places to relax and soak up the atmosphere:
- a picnic or BBQ at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station (free entry and gas BBQs)
- a late afternoon stroll at Simpsons Gap
- relax at the Watertank Cafe (a real local secret)
- chill out at Montes bar and bistro (where we locals love to hang out)
- enjoy the BEST espresso martini of your life at the funky retro Epilogue Lounge
Places to Stay
There’s no shortage of accommodation in Alice Springs. You’ll find everything here from the 5 Star Double Tree Hilton to couchsurfing.
There’s eight different backpacker’s hostels, 8 caravan and camping parks and a dozen motels to choose from.
Before you book, make sure that you pick the right accommodation for you.
Some of the backpacker’s hostels are party pads, where families or people looking for a relaxing holiday won’t want to stay. Some of the caravan parks allow dogs, and we’ve had many visitors tell us that they didn’t appreciate other people’s dogs running around all over the place.
Other hotels are located a little way out of the main part of town, and you’ll need a vehicle or some form of transport to reach them.
We’ve got an enormous section on accommodation in Alice Springs, with reviews of every hotel, hostel and caravan park in town, so we recommend you start there first.
When to Visit?
Really, you can visit at any time -even in the middle of summer- and see most of the things we’ve written about here.
It just depends on what you want to see and do, and whether you’re up to dealing with the summer heat. Generally, we tell people that the best time to visit is from April to October, which are autumn, winter and early spring here in the outback.
Alice Springs Average Daily Temperatures:
- Summer: 20.6° C (69°F) to 35.4°C (95.7°F)
- Autumn: 12.8°C (55°F) to 27.8°C (82°F)
- Winter: 3.1°C (38°F) to 20.5°C (69°F)
- Spring: 14.2°C (58°F) to 30.3°C (86.5°F)
One thing many people are surprised to learn about Alice Springs is that it gets very cold -below freezing- in the winter time. We’ve had temperatures here as low as -6°Celsius during winter – so be warned.
If you visit in winter, make sure you bring VERY warm clothing.
So what’s the very BEST time to visit?
Ok. We’ll let you in on a BIG secret: the best time to visit anywhere in Central Australia is MAY.
That’s because you’ll get perfect daytime temperatures, and cool (but not freezing) nights. It’s also when the night time temperatures drop below 10°Celsius, which kills most of the flies.
This means you can do lots of outdoor activities, like visiting the MacDonnell Ranges, the Desert Park and going on a couple of short hikes AND you can even go camping without it being freezing cold like it is in winter time.
Many tourist brochures and other websites tell you that April is a good month to visit Central Australia, especially if you’re heading to Darwin or the Kimberleys.
Well, we disagree.
In April we commonly get days with temperatures of 35°C and more. In other words, April can still be very hot!
Which means that if it’s hot in Alice Springs and you’re planning on travelling further north, it’s going to be bloody hot and possibly humid in Darwin and possibly VERY hot in the Kimberley!
Better to delay a month and let things cool down.
Alice Springs is one of those places where there’s always more than meets the eye.
We see many people -especially Grey Nomads- who dismiss the town as ‘dirty’ and having ‘Aboriginal problems’, even though they haven’t bothered to talk to Aboriginal people or learn more about their culture and history.
Most of these people treat Alice as little more than a fuel and food stop and yes, they complain about that, too.
We say this to those who think Alice Springs is NOT worth the time:
We challenge you to spend 5 days here, and really get to know this little town with a HUGE cultural heart.
You’ll be surprised and even humbled if you take the time to really get to know the town and its locals.
- Facts About Alice Springs -best time to visit, the weather, shopping, banks and other must-know information
- 10 Must-See Places in Alice Springs – the things you must NOT miss!
- What it’s really like to live in Alice Springs. We tell it like it is – good and bad
- Alice Springs FAQs
- Alice Springs Weather